10 Must-read Nonfiction Books for the Fiction Fan

If you’re a book lover – and, really, why else would you be here? – trying to decide where to land after finishing a great book is a familiar feeling. You’ve plowed your way through your latest literary love affair, but as is the bookworm’s plight, the craving for more remains. While it can be tempting to return to the comfortable, solid ground of well-tread genres, there’s something to be said for stepping out of that comfort zone and exploring new terrain.

For the fiction-obsessed, the world of nonfiction can seem a daunting – and possibly uninteresting – one. After all, what could real life possibly offer over the goings-on in Westeros, a solitary astronaut’s struggle for survival on Mars, or the disturbing prescience of a handmaid’s life in Gilead? The answer, fortunately, is quite a lot. If you’re in search of a change of pace, nonfiction – narrative nonfiction in particular – offers a host of options no matter your taste in fiction. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

  • The cover of the book Policing the Black Man

    Policing the Black Man

    Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment

    If You’ve Read: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
    Try: Policing the Blackman: Arrest. Prosecution, and Imprisonment Edited by Angela Davis
    If Colson Whitehead’s powerful and surreal Pulitzer Prize winner piqued your curiosity, consider moving on to Policing the Black Man, edited by Angela Davis. This striking collection of essays is a comprehensive and immensely readable analysis of the key issues of the Black Lives Matter movement. The anthology is an exploration and critique of the criminal justice system and the way the system’s shortcomings inordinately fall on the African American community.

  • The cover of the book All Your Base Are Belong to Us

    All Your Base Are Belong to Us

    How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture

    If You’ve Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    Try: All Your Base Are Belong to Us by Harold Goldberg
    Ernest Cline’s nerdstravaganza, Ready Player One, is heading to the big screen. For those who couldn’t put down this near-future dystopia with its video game and pop-culture-obsessed trappings, All Your Base Are Belong to Us is just the ticket. With All Your Base, journalist Harold Goldberg takes a deep dive into the last fifty years of video game history and the way these games and the innovations within and around them have shaped pop culture in their meteoric rise to the top.

  • The cover of the book The Devil in the White City

    The Devil in the White City

    Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

    If You’ve Read: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
    The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
    Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? As good as the fictional ones often are, this is one particular instance where real life is far stranger and unbelievable than virtually anything you’ll find in a novel. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City traces one of America’s most notorious serial killers, Dr. H. H. Holmes. Holmes crafted a multi-room torture chamber in his sprawling home set along the grounds of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which unsurprisingly came to be known as the murder castle. Holmes may have claimed as many as twenty-seven victims before being hanged in 1896.

  • The cover of the book Negroland


    A Memoir

    If You’ve Read: Swing Time by Zadie Smith
    Try: Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
    With Swing Time, Zadie Smith turns her ambitious and focused prose skills to the issues of identity, class, and race. With Negroland, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson gifts us with a true-to-life view into the themes that power Swing Time. Sitting firmly at the nexus of privilege, discrimination, and the fallacy of a post-racial America, Negroland is equal parts provocative and celebratory in its portrait of race in America.

  • The cover of the book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

    An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

    If You’ve Read: The Martian by Andy Weir
    Try: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
    The Martian was a true literary success story, climbing its way from self-publication to the bestseller lists. To boot, its adaptation proved a box office smash. For readers caught in the thrall of Mark Watney’s fight for survival, check out astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield’s memoir, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. With 4,000-plus hours logged in space, Col. Hadfield has a wealth of larger-than-life stories ranging from his efforts to break into a Space Station with a Swiss Army Knife to disposing of a live snake while flying a plane to clinging for his life to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft.

  • The cover of the book Thomas Cromwell

    Thomas Cromwell

    If You’ve Read: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
    Try: Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Trusted Servant by Tracy Borman
    If Hilary Mantel’s bestselling work of historical fiction kept you on the edge of your seat with the comings and goings, back stabbings, and shady dealings that defined the court of Henry VIII, consider picking up a copy of Tracy Borman’s exhaustive and immensely readable account of Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.

  • The cover of the book Avenue of Spies

    Avenue of Spies

    A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistancein Nazi-Occupied Paris

    If You’ve Read: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw
    All the Light We Cannot See is a poignant and devastating look into the very human toll of World War II and it earned Anthony Doerr a Pulitzer Prize. Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a perfect follow-up. Kershaw’s book tells the true life story of an American doctor in occupied France who soon found himself caught up in the liberation movement. This stunning tale of a doctor-turned-master of espionage would be a brilliant next step for readers.

  • The cover of the book The Secret History of Wonder Woman

    The Secret History of Wonder Woman

    If You’ve Read: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
    Try: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
    Over-the-top characters? Check. Polyamorous relations? Indeed. Feminist sex cults? You betcha. If you enjoyed the rollicking narrative and comic-book history lesson of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winner, then add The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore to your TBR pile. While the world of comic book publishing is full of real-life outsized characters and big personalities, Dr. William Moulton Marston is really in a league of his own. His creation of Wonder Woman is an oft-bizarre and hilarious and still somewhat unknown backstory of one of DC Comics’ most enduring heroes.

  • The cover of the book Between the World and Me

    Between the World and Me

    If You’ve Read: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    Try: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    Angie Thomas’s powerfully and topical novel, The Hate U Give, is a riveting and vital commentary on the complexities of race relations and the searing impact a police-involved shooting can have on a community. If Thomas’s brand of devastatingly insightful commentary caught your attention, add Between the World and Me to your must-reads. Ta-Nehisi Coates pivots between the larger tapestry of race relations and the more tightly focused portrait of a father’s concerns for his son. Within this framework, Coates creates a devastatingly powerful critique of the role of race in American society.

  • The cover of the book Lab Girl

    Lab Girl

    If You’ve Read: Chemistry by Weike Wang
    Try: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
    If you can’t quite manage to get Weike Wang’s Chemistry off your mind, Lab Girl might just do the trick. Hope Jahren’s memoir is both timely and brilliantly woven. While acclaimed scientist Jahren ostensibly puts the focus of her book on the trees and plants she’s dedicated her life to studying, what emerges from Lab Girl is a complex and remarkable portrait of a strong woman excelling in a profession in the face of professional hardship, harassment, and discrimination that is still unfortunately prevalent in the field of science.